In 2020, Crusaders loose forward Ethan Blackadder was the unlucky man. A shoulder injury suffered in the late stages of the prior season’s provincial competition meant the promising flanker was going to spend the formative part of the year on the sidelines.

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A year later, and Blackadder is fit and healthy – and has been named to start in the Crusaders’ opening pre-season match of the year.

Unfortunately, Tom Sanders, the man who caught many an eye during last year’s North v South clash, will be sidelined for the next eight weeks due to a head clash suffered in an intra-squad match last week.

Sanders, who was likely on few people’s radars for the majority of last year, put on a barnstorming performance in the South’s last minute victory and was even being touted as a potential All Blacks bolter.

The competition at the Crusaders is fierce, however, and Sanders will start the season on the backfoot – almost certainly being unavailable for the entirety of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

In Friday’s pre-season fixture with the Highlanders, the Crusaders will call upon Blackadder, Tom Christie and Whetukamokamo Douglas in the first half and Anton Segner, Sione Havili and Brendan O’Connor in the second.

One-cap All Blacks loosie Cullen Grace is also on the books and will likely hold down a position once the regular season kicks off.

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None of the Crusaders’ long list of internationals from 2020 will feature in the pre-season hit-out but the Highlanders may still struggle, such is the depth at the disposal of the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.

Newly re-signed lock Quinten Strange’s selection should be a happy sight for the New Zealand selectors, however, with the 24-year-old lock’s 2020 season marred by injury.

Leicester Fainga’anuku’s spot in the midfield for the second half could also be a sign of what’s to come this season – while former All Black Rene Ranger, an injury replacement for Braydon Ennor, has been named in the same position for the opening stanza. Former Highlander Josh McKay will start at fullback and will no doubt have intentions on proving to the Highlanders coaches that leaving the outside back out of their squad was a grave mistake.

Douglas and Luke Romano will take on the captaincy duties.

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Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said the squad is looking forward to getting their 2021 campaign underway.

“Pre-season gives us an important indication of where we are at as a team, and allows us an opportunity to give a number of players a chance to prove themselves ahead of the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa in two weeks’ time.

“There is always a lot of anticipation leading in to the first game of the season, and the chance to represent our wider Crusaders region in front of a full crowd at Temuka Rugby Club is really exciting for our squad. As coaches, we’re really looking forward to seeing this group of players go about their work.”

The Farmlands Cup pre-season match kicks off 5:30pm NZT on Friday afternoon.

Crusaders team to play the Highlanders:

1st Half Team

1. Isileli Tuungafasi

2. Brodie McAlister

3. Michael Alaalatoa

4. Will Tucker

5. Quinten Strange

6. Ethan Blackadder

7. Tom Christie

8. Whetukamokamo Douglas (C)

9. Mitchell Drummond

10. Fergus Burke

11. Leicester Fainga’anuku

12. Isaiah Punivai

13. Rene Ranger

14. Chay Fihaki

15. Josh McKay

2nd Half Team

1. Tamaiti Williams

2. Nathan Vella

3. Oliver Jager

4. Luke Romano (C)

5. Zach Gallagher

6. Anton Segner

7. Sione Havili

8. Brendon O’Connor

9. Ereatara Enari

10. Brett Cameron

11. Tomas Aoake

12. Tim O’Malley

13. Leicester Fainga’anuku

14. Timoci Tavatavanawai

15. Chay Fihaki

RESERVES: Siua Maile, Fletcher Newell, Mahonri Ngakuru, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta

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